The Hollywood Reporter (opens in new tab) says Duke Nukem, the most infamously failed musclehead in videogame history, is headed to the big screen. The rights to a Duke Nukem film project have been picked up by Legendary Entertainment, according to the report, while Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz, and Hayden Schlossberg, the creators of the Cobra Kai television series, are signed as producers.
In some ways, it’s a natural fit. Duke Nukem was originally created as a simplistic parody of 1980s action heroes, after all: He was all action, ass-kicking, and half-witted one-liners, and the only thing bigger than his guns were his biceps. The games moved from 2D platformer to 3D FPS in 1996 with Duke Nukem 3D, a brilliantly good shooter that earned criticism for embracing the stereotypes a little too enthusiastically. But in spite of its success, a new game in the series didn’t come along until Duke Nukem Forever in 2011, which ejected the parody element and went all-in on “Duke is cool”: It was widely panned, and tanked.
On the surface, that makes a Duke Nukem film project seem like a risky proposition at best. I like ’80s action films, but I appreciate them with appropriate levels of awareness and irony—and honestly, I don’t think there’s any macho star from that era who’s even remotely as douchey as Duke. I sure wouldn’t want a Duke Nukem action film played straight.
But the involvement of Heald, Hurwitz, and Schlossberg makes me think that there’s a chance it could work. Cobra Kai (opens in new tab), which airs on Netflix, is a sequel to the Karate Kid films from the ’80s, which is also a terrible idea on its face. Yet it’s critically acclaimed and a commercial hit because of the way it subverts those original films: Characters are more developed and complex, bad guys struggle to be better (some of them, anyway), and through it all there’s a subtle acknowledgement of the essential ridiculousness of the whole thing: Why are Ralph Macchio and William Zabka still so eager to beat the shit out of each other 40 years later?
It’s not hard to imagine a similar approach being taken with Duke, and I think it could be very effective. And it’s not as though the concept of an anachronistic, not-too-bright “hero” forced to grapple with the realities of a world that’s left him behind is a new and fresh concept: Mike Myers used it to turn himself into a superstar with the Austin Powers trilogy.
A Gearbox rep confirmed that The Hollywood Reporter report is accurate, but did not comment on whether it will be directly involved in the project. A writer and director for the film have not yet been signed.